By: Shane Horgan
The Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme represents an experience incomparable to any other thus far in my PhD journey. In a somewhat futile attempt to summarise my experience of the OII SDP into a few introductory words, the SDP of 2016 united 30 PhD researchers by our shared endeavor, experiences and — needless to say — exasperations. From the outset and over the course of two beautiful summer weeks in Oxford, the SDP fostered a stimulating and supportive environment that gave rise to endless discussion, debate and development. It is the foundation on which an international network of friends has been built, future collaborations planned and a group which I am immensely proud to be a part of.
2016’s SDP took place at the OII’s main building at 1 St Giles, a place in which we very quickly felt at home. On the daily walk from our accommodation at Hertford College to St Giles you are not only confronted with architectural beauty often left to the work of computer generated images, but with so dense a history of intellectual exploration and cultural landmarks it is difficult to be anything but enthused and inspired each and every day. The programme’s schedule is primarily structured around staff and guest lectures, and student presentations. The diversity of students’ disciplinary backgrounds and PhD topics was matched by those of the speakers, whose work generated enough conversation to deafen the patrons in any of Oxford’s institutional watering holes we regularly found our way to.
Prior to SDP I hadn’t presented to an audience whose focus was solely on the Internet and society. Criminology’s theoretical toolbox is still adapting and developing itself to life in the information society and what the internet means for crime, the causes of crime and responses to it. In addition to the rigorous and constructive feedback from a range of perspectives, the support and encouragement of the SDP cohort, the OII staff and guest speakers quickly allayed my perpetually crippling podium fright. Seldom is there an opportunity to have the attention and curiosity of such an engaged multidisciplinary group who can open your eyes to the wider lenses under which you can examine your work or approach a research question, as well as its uses beyond those you previously considered. This feedback isn’t solely confined to those 20 minutes, and that is the magic of the SDP. You have two weeks in which to discuss, deconstruct and unpack your work and the work of those around you in intimate detail; in the pub, in the punt, playing croquet and on the roof (also a pub). It is no exaggeration to say that my SDP experience had a positive transformative effect on both my current work and my approach to research generally.
I think it is worth mentioning that SDP 2016 coincided with troubling times for the UK and Europe. Here is not the place to discuss this in depth, and to do so would be to oversimplify a very complex issue. It is enough to say that it remains a time of uncertainty and insecurity for students and academics alike, where Brexit and its implications are never far from any discussion. I mention this because SDP represents, at least for me, the anti-thesis of the meaning of Brexit and the ideas that gave rise to it. The OII SDP is a truly global gathering of scholars who are concerned with problems that affect us all, regardless of who you are, where you’re from, or what state you live in. It is a manifestation of the importance and value of international perspectives, cooperation, and collaboration. It is an example of what you can learn when curiosities are limited only by imagination.
I have found it incredibly difficult to consolidate what I want to say about SDP. In part, because so much happened in such a short time, but foremost because of my wish to do justice to my cohort and our shared experience. I think that in itself goes some way towards capturing a glimpse of OIISDP 2016’s essence.
Shane is a PhD Candidate in Criminology at Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh in affiliation with the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research. His research explores public sensibilities towards crime and disorder online, and the strategies people employ to manage online risk in their everyday lives.